Despite the Rays’ loss to the Orioles on September 17, Tampa clinched a playoff spot for the fifth consecutive season. The Rays managed to remain among the best in the Majors after Tampa sustained a number of significant injuries. Here’s a look at how the 2023 campaign has gone for the Rays and how Tampa can win it all this year.
A Look at the Rays Offense
It’s not hard to see why the Tampa Bay Rays are second in the AL and fourth in the Majors in team OPS (.773).
Yandy Diaz, who the Rays extended this past offseason, continues to be a rock at the top of the Tampa lineup. Diaz’s .398 OBP is good for seventh in the Majors in that category, and his raw power and strength has shown up on the stat sheet. The 32-year-old set career-highs in home runs (20) and extra base hits (52).
The two true breakout stars for the Rays, though, have been Jose Siri and Isaac Paredes. Siri, who’s currently on the IL, belted 25 homers in 101 games and played stellar defense in center field for the Rays. Per Statcast, Siri is tied with Harrison Bader for fifth in the Majors in Outs Above Average (+10) among center fielders.
And as for Paredes, the 24-year-old hit 29 home runs and drove in 89 for the Rays across his first 132 games of the season.
One weakness that the Rays do have is at shortstop. Wander Franco was the team’s starter at the position for most of the season, but has not played since mid-August after accusations he had a relationship with a minor. Taylor Walls has been the team’s regular shortstop since he returned from the IL in early September, but he’s hit just .188 in 16 second-half games.
A Look at the Rays Pitching
It’s rather remarkable to see what the Rays’ pitching staff has been able to do in 2023.
Tampa entered the 2023 campaign without a trio of starters in Jeffrey Springs, Drew Rasmussen, and Shane McClanahan that dominated opposing hitters throughout the early portions of the season. However, all three are now on the IL for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs.
Springs (Tommy John surgery) and Rasmussen’s (right elbow) seasons ended early, though. And by the middle of August, McClanahan experienced right forearm tightness that proved to be the precursor to Tommy John surgery.
The Rays still have a bonafide ace in Tyler Glasnow, but the supporting cast has been what’s kept Tampa in the conversation for the top spot in the AL. Free agent acquisition Zach Eflin‘s proved to be a steady hand for the Rays in 2023. The Rays righty entered play on September 18 first in the AL in wins (15) and first in all of MLB in WHIP (1.01)
And since the start of August, Eflin owns a 2.98 ERA, a stellar 56:6 K:BB rate through 51.1 IP, and six of his nine starts in that span were quality starts.
Aside from Eflin, both Zack Littell and Aaron Civale have delivered quality innings since their arrival. Civale’s ERA with the Rays is up (4.43) since the trade that sent him to Tampa, but he’s also missed more bats. Littell, meanwhile, posted a 3.70 ERA since he moved to the rotation.
Tampa’s bullpen hasn’t been spared by injuries, either. Pete Fairbanks, Jason Adam, Shawn Armstrong, and Garrett Cleavinger all spent time on the IL this season, although the Rays do have Fairbanks and Armstrong active.
Tampa entered play on September 18 with the third-best team ERA (3.77) and second-best opponent’s batting average (.229).
How the Rays Can Win it All
Right now, the Rays’ focus is squarely on the AL East title. Tampa had a chance to either tie Baltimore for first in the division after their four-games series or at least pull within a game, but remain two back after the Rays dropped the final two games of the series.
Should the Rays remain in the top AL Wild Card slot after October 1, a difficult matchup — whether it be against the Mariners, Rangers, or Blue Jays — awaits in the opening round. There, the Rays’ pitching depth will truly be tested.
Even without Jason Adam, the Rays have a strong mix in the bullpen and the arms necessary to get through games. However, the likes of Eflin, Civale, and Glasnow will be critical to success come October. If the Rays want to win it all, those three will need to deliver quality innings.